In its mission to connect the old world to the new, the B'nai B'rith Klutznick National Jewish Museum is undeterred by its more obscure location on the seventh floor of a downtown office building and its policy of admission by reservation only. The small, but brimming, museum (only one-third of its holdings are on view) presents a full program of outreach, with exhibits, programming and tours that aim to preserve Jewish history and educate Jews and non-Jews alike.
A visit begins with the Sports Hall of Fame, where plaques and photographs line the wall in one of the museum's most popular displays. Beyond the hall, one large room is divided into three sections: Synagogue, Festivals and Shabbat. Most of these collections come from Joseph B. and Olyn Horwitz. After World War II, the Horwitzes collected Judaica from across Europe, particularly Italy. For many of the artifacts, little history is known beyond the labels they arrived with at the museum.
These and other rare examples of Judaica span back to the 15th century B.C.E. and do not tour outside of the B'nai B'rith museum. Highlights include a 1790 letter from George Washington to Touro Synagogue in Rhode Island, promising religious freedom. An embroidered wimple dates back to the 16th century (its value apparent by its stunningly preserved condition) and a pair of candlesticks, treasured for their ornate metalwork, is made more precious by its rarity as a surviving object from Danzig.
Most of the artifacts are portable -- a necessity for many Jews in Europe over the centuries -- but there are larger pieces and architectural fragments as well. Traditional artifacts, including prayer shawls, marriage contracts, menorahs, and other ritual objects make up the bulk of the collection. But on the even smaller -- and the quirky -- side, a Zionist relic features six peas inscribed with the Israeli national anthem.
The museum leads tours for school children and other groups, but individuals and researchers are welcome by appointment. Family programs, requiring registration by phone or e-mail, include a Family Fun Day every Dec. 25 and ongoing educational presentations. The museum also works within the community and recently began a partnership with the 6th and Eye Synagogue that includes "Cochin Diary," an exhibition about Jewish life in Southern India.
-- Maura McCarthy